Chile: Who Changed to Democracy?


President Obama said yesterday in South America that Chile made great change from dictatorship to democracy. I had to think about that. A more correct statement would be: Chile has always supported democracy; it is the U.S. that has changed, since it is the U.S. that no longer promotes dictatorship in Chile, but instead accepts democracy and the choices made by the Chilean voters.

Chile is a South American state in the Andes Mountains, where copper and iron ore are mined. Many of their mines were owned by U.S. interests. Back in 1965, a democratically-elected Chilean Senate voted to nationalize U.S.-owned copper mines, including Anaconda, Cerro and Kennecott. Their legislation was not carried out at first, until a man named Salvador Allende campaigned in 1970 to implement their laws. He was democratically-elected.

Behind the scenes, President Nixon’s CIA tried but failed to prevent Allende from being elected. The CIA conspired with International Telephone & Telegraph to disrupt Chilean politics. Meanwhile, Allende went ahead and nationalized copper, iron-ore and other concerns. Several UN Resolutions had made it clear that countries had right to control their own natural resources, without outside interference. Nevertheless, strikes, demonstrations and sabotage in 1972 led to a state of emergency. It was the U.S., and not the Chilean people, who engaged in a war against democracy and the freely-elected Chilean government.

Nixon’s CIA sponsored a military coup in 1973, which led to the execution of Allende. It was the U.S. that ushered in Gen. Augusto Pinochet and his brutal dictatorship. We were the ones responsible for his army and the arrests of thousands, the torture of political prisoners, and the death of many. Pinochet remained until 1990, when his collaborators gave him immunity from prosecution, so he could leave office. Pinochet, the dictator the U.S. had installed, finally died in 2006. Ironically, that same year Chile freely elected a Socialist woman as their president.

The point is Chile did not change; their voters have always wanted democracy. What changed is America. It is the U.S. that moved out of the dark days of the Nixon era, when dictatorships were supported, and into the light of the Obama presidency, where we are now promoting democracy.

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